Freedom of Information Documents show State ETB schools have a specifically Catholic ethos

The Minister for Education and ETB Ireland are both presenting ETB schools as the State-run multi-denominational alternative for parents who do not want a Catholic education for their children. They are promoting ETB schools ahead of Educate Together schools.

But Atheist Ireland has obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act that show that at least some ETB second level State schools have a specifically Catholic ethos or characteristic spirit, that has been decided and conveyed to them by their State-run ETB, and strongly influenced by Catholic Diocesan Advisors who represent the local Catholic Bishop.

This contradicts the supposedly multi-denominational ethos that the Minister and ETB Ireland are claiming for these schools. They are also refusing to keep parents and advocacy groups fully informed about their future plans for teaching religious education in these schools.

Tipperary ETB charged Atheist Ireland €300 to locate and send us these documents.

The schools that the documents refer to are run by Tipperary ETB, but based on feedback from parents to Atheist Ireland, this ethos is reflected in other ETBs throughout the country. Despite being State schools, these are not inclusive schools. They operate on the ground in the same manner as Catholic schools, which undermine the rights of parents and their children. Most of these schools are non designated and have no formal agreement (such as the Model Agreement) with the Catholic Church.

At a staff meeting in one ETB State school, staff discussing the school’s Religious Education Policy were told that having a policy is not optional, and that it is the school’s duty to have prayer and put up Christian symbols. This was based on advice from a person whose name is redacted, but who is likely to be the Catholic Diocesan Advisor who represents Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan from the Diocese of Waterfore & Lismore.

The documents that we have obtained also show that a Catholic Diocesan Advisor has told these ETB State schools that religion should be a core subject on the curriculum (which means that pupils who opt out would not be given an alternative subject to learn) and that the schools should teach children “into” religion as well as “about” and “from” religion.

The Catholic Diocesan advisor claims that this is not indoctrination. However, in academic pedagogy, “teaching into religion” is suitable only for denominational schools, with the teacher representing the religion, and it is associated with indoctrination. Also, it is not objective, critical and pluralistic, which is the human rights standard for teaching about religion and beliefs in a pluralist society.

Parents have a constitutional right to opt their children out of religious education classes. At least two ETB State schools decided their policy on implementing this, based on advice that they received from the Catholic Diocesan Advisor. That policy is not only that pupils are not offered an alternative subject to learn, but that the pupils must remain in the religion class, and cannot study other subjects or do homework. The supposed reason is that students should have equality of opportunity to study for other subjects, but in practice, it discourages other students from opting out of religion. Here are extracts from this policy. You can read the full policy here.

As well as the extract above, the school also refuses to provide an alternative class or supervision for pupils opting out of Religious Education class, and it will only allow the pupil to leave the school during RE period if their parents come to supervise them. This is another example of religious discrimination against parents who do not want their children to be exposed to the teaching that takes place in the Religion class, because it imposes an undue burden on them (and in most cases an impossible burden) because of their religious or nonreligious beliefs.

The Catholic Diocesan Advisor also advised ETB State Schools that religion should be a core subject with no alternative subjects offered, that it should not be timetabled at the start or end of the school day, that time outside class hours must be allowed for liturgies and retreats to enable students to experience God as a living presence. Also, the Catholic Diocese runs an annual seminar for religion teachers.

Why would the Catholic Diocese be running an annual seminar for religion teachers in State schools? Because the Catholic Diocese also has control over the hiring of religion teachers in these schools, for a religion course that is supposed to be for members of all religions and none. The Diocesan Advisor also inspects the schools twice a year, to ensure that they are fulfilling their requirement to teach Catholic religious instruction and worship.

These documents show the extraordinary control that the Catholic Church wields over ETB State schools. It is inconceivable that the Minister for Education is endorsing these schools as the preferred State alternative to denominational schools in Ireland.

Links to Documents

Atheist Ireland obtained many more documents under this FOI request than those that the above article refers to, and we will be reporting more about this issue in the future.

Here are links to some of the documents that we obtained. They are from a combination of ETB Schools, Tipperary ETB or VEC, the Catholic Diocesan Advisor, and the Department of Education.

The numbers refer to the sequence in which Tipperary ETB numbered the pages that they sent to us. Many documents have more than one page: where this is the case, the file number is that of the first page of the document.

FOI TETB 1 — Religious Education Policy, Dec 2014

FOI TETB 10 — Religious Education Policy Review Dec 2015

FOI TETB 12 — Board of Management Meeting Oct 2014

FOI TETB 22 — Board of Management Meeting Dec 2014

FOI TETB 33 — Board of Management Meeting Jan 2016

FOI TETB 108 — Religion Subject Meeting 2009-2010

FOI TETB 110 — Religion Subject Plan Meeting 2011-2012

FOI TETB 112 — Religion Subject Plan meeting 2013-2014

FOI TETB 113 — Catholic Diocesan Visitations 2013-14 *

FOI TETB 113b — Catholic Diocesan Visitations 2014-16 *

FOI TETB 116 — Letter from Diocesan Advisor Sep 2014

FOI TETB 119 — Staff Meeting Dec 2014

FOI TETB 126 — Minutes of School Principals June 2015

FOI TETB 133 — Meeting of School Principals Dec 2015

FOI TETB 137 — Meeting of School Principals Sep 2016

FOI TETB 140 — South Tipperary VEC Meeting April 2008

FOI TETB 150 — South Tipperary VEC Policy Statement

FOI TETB 152 — Dept of Education Circular Letter 73/74

FOI TETB 160 — Dept of Education Circular Letter 7/79

* Note: Document 113b is the middle page of Document 113. The ETB accidentally omitted that page when photocopying the documents, and sent it later as a separate page when we noticed that the wording didn’t flow in the original documents.


  1. Avatar
    Anna B Mccabe October 08, 2017

    I would like to know why the “no earplugs” policy is insisted upon. I would have thought they would be mandatory to protect them from accidental indoctrination!

  2. Avatar
    Anna B Mccabe October 08, 2017

    I would like to know why there is a “no earplugs” policy. I would have thought they were a wonderful idea to protect from accidental indoctrination!


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